When I was seven, thirteen years ago, my second grade class created Studentreasures manuscripts. Studentreasures is a print-on-demand publisher that publishes the books of elementary school students, often, from my understanding, for no charge. As I completed mine, my teacher recognized what would later be identified as a prodigious level of ability in my writing, and simply told my mom to be sure to invite her to my first book signing. When my mom told me, it finally clicked in my brain that the names on book covers are actual people, that actual people could create something so magically transportive. I wanted to harness that power.
When I was eight, my published book came back and I was inspired to set the goal of getting published “the big way” while I was still a kid – that is, before my twentieth birthday.
When I was nine I began having dreams that were too perfectly unforgettable to leave behind without plotting the missing pieces.
When I was ten I was published in the Southern Sampler for the first time.
When I was eleven my novel began to take shape.
When I was twelve I tested my story by roping all of my friends into it.
When I was thirteen I perfected the plot of an eight-book series.
When I was fourteen I began writing a satisfactory first draft.
When I was fifteen I finished and began editing. I was scammed into submitting to a publisher through a personal connection full of bad advice. Applying to the SC Governor’s School for the Arts motivated me to read enough latin american magical realism and canon works to discover the true nature and powers of description – a journey I look back on as nothing less than a renaissance. My book began to connect me to people, including a great aunt and uncle whom I’d had little connection with in the past. When they discovered my novel they took it upon themselves to mentor me through my efforts.
At sixteen I had saved up enough money to attend the Southeastern Writers Conference, where I found guidance from the poet laureate of my state and author Emily Sue Harvey, and I left with the SWA Juvenile Writing Award and the M. L. Brown Award for YA lit.
At seventeen I attended the South Carolina Writers Workshop for the first time, where I met the literary agent who had represented my favorite childhood authors, including Jean Craighead George and Gail Carson Levine. She remembered me a year later when I queried her. My efforts in the publishing industry embellished my college applications and earned me a scholarship to the University of South Carolina. I worked on a magazine internship and received multiple awards for my poetry.
At eighteen I had crafted a query letter that earned me serious consideration and critiques from some of the best literary agencies in the field, including Andrea Brown, Fineprint Lit, Curtis Brown, and Literary Foundry + Media.
At nineteen I rewrote my manuscript for the fifth time at the request of one of these agents. I was enlisted to help draft adventures for the upcoming Boy Scouts of America emblems Plug & Axel. I earned a critique that has sold in auctions for over two thousand dollars.
In my journeys I have met C. E. Murphy, Nicholas Sparks, Steve Berry, Patricia Smith, Marjory Wentworth, Michael Connelly, and countless other authors of less renown who should be far more renown than they presently are.
I have no accomplishment that can possibly yardstick the hours, the sacrifices, the hope, and the passion that have gone into half a dozen rewrites and hundreds of revisions. But I have gained more respect for myself and shown the world more of my soul than I ever could have done had I taken another path.
I take vicious pride in knowing I did everything I could do.
On my twentieth birthday, the top of my Mount Everest was sliced off before I could reach it. It broke my heart.
And I know that the opus speaks for the life, not the life for the opus – no one will want to read this story to so little gratification. It’s the door that gets farther away the faster you sprint toward it, it’s the video game you lose on the last level. Except a little less hopeless.
What now? Well… that’s top secret writer information. 🙂